Saturday, February 1, 2014

Living by Grace Apart From the Law… Practically



In what way are we free from the "law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2); the law of Moses? Positionally only? Or is it also practically? One way to tell is to look at its relation to grace. If we are "under grace" in position only then we are "not under law" in position only. However, if we are "under grace" practically then we are also "not under law" practically. We must look at how grace and law are used in specific passages which contrast the two.

Going through the epistle to the Romans we first need to look at Chapter 3. Here it seems that what is contrasted is the works of the law and justification by grace (vv. 19-31 and 4:13-16). Then we get to Chapter 5. There really isn't much of a contrast here. Grace is first mentioned in verse 2 and is described as the grace that we have been standing in but is not contrasted with the law. However, when we finally get to v. 13 law is there introduced. In vv. 12-20 we see a definite contrast between sin and grace which is introduced and concluded by a brief talk of law. Paul speaks of a time before law (v. 13) and a time in which law came. He says that the law came in order to increase trespasses grace might reign more than death (v. 20). The only contrast of law and grace is that law produces sin and sin reigns in death while grace reigns through righteousness and those who receive grace reign in life (v. 17; 21). This seems to be a usage of law and grace for daily living. If we continue under the law then sin will increase but there is nothing to worry about for grace aboundeth.

Then there is the artificial chapter break of 6:1 where we are asked rhetorically whether we should then continue in sin. Paul answers emphatically, “May it never be!” He then asks another often overlooked (maybe overshadowed) rhetorical question, “How can we still live in sin since we died to it?” Paul continues on in Romans 6:12 compelling us to not let sin reign or to obey its passions. In verses 6-7 we are told the answer to the question “How can we still live in sin?” The answer is we can’t. He tells us that our old body was killed so that we would not be a slave of sin; but set free. Verse 14 tells us that the reason that we must not let sin reign is because sin does not rule us if we are under grace and not under law. So, the answer to the rhetorical question is again that we can’t. Here is a clear contrast where law and grace are both referring to daily living. Understanding that we are not under law but under grace compels us to live lives free from sin. We see the same thing in vv. 15-23. We are not going to continue in sin because we are under grace and not under the law, but this in no way makes us act lawlessly. Instead it makes us act righteously for we are now slaves to God and his righteousness (vv. 15-19).

Moving right along we come to the 7th chapter of Romans. Paul assures us here in v. 7 that we ought not equate the law with sin. Quickly, though, he moves to tell us that the law is the vehicle which sin uses to produce sin and death in us (vv. 8-11). In verse 13 Paul reassures us that the law did not bring death and that it is good in itself, but that sin again uses the law to become even more sinful (sinful beyond measure ESV) and the reason for this is because the law is spiritual but we are of flesh (v. 14). While Paul desires to keep the law and do good—which shows the law is good—he does not keep the law—which shows that it is his flesh or his indwelling sin which wants to break the law. So, again we see that the sinful nature of man works together with the law to produce lawless behavior (18-23).

However, if we continue on to chapter 8 we find the solution to the sin law problem. It is not being without law—lawlessness—but without a certain law. In v. 2 we are shown that we have been set free from the law of sin and death which creates this vicious circle of sin-law-flesh-sin-death-sin by a better law—the law of the Spirit which is about life. Further, in vv. 3-4 we are told that God finally ended this circle—which the law could not do—by condemning sin in that flesh, which so weakened the law, in order that we could fulfill all the righteousness that the law demanded. This is done by walking according to the Spirit and living under the law of the Spirit.  Verses 7-8 assure us that the fleshly minded person, who does not walk and live by the Spirit does not and cannot submit to God’s law and cannot please God. This chapter makes it clear that Paul is speaking about daily living.

It seems in light of these passages that we really are to consider ourselves free from law practically and positionally. In only one of the above passages is Paul referring to only positional justification. The idea he puts forth is that the law causes us to sin—albeit not because of itself but because of our flesh, but the law is part of the equation. Since we are free from the law we are commended to live by the Spirit and by grace.

This in no way makes us lawless. Paul corrects that idea. In chapter 8 we saw that we are to live by another law: the law of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2 Paul uses the term Law of Christ.  Both the Spirit and Christ are key landmarks (signs) of the New Covenant. When Paul speaks of the law of Christ or of the Spirit he is speaking of the law of a new covenant. In Hebrews we read that since we have a better covenant and a better high priest we need a new law. “For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.” (Hebrews 7:12)